New York City’s first-ever electric scooter sharing program touched down in the Bronx on Tuesday, offering city residents a first glimpse of the rentable two-wheelers that have garnered global popularity and controversy in recent years.
Roughly 3,000 of the scooters appeared overnight on the sidewalks of the East Bronx, as part of a limited pilot program initiated last summer by the City Council. After one year, if all goes well, the vehicles will expand south into neighborhoods like Throggs Neck and Soundview, before potentially spreading further into the city.
Proponents of the scooters say they offer a low-cost, easy-access travel option in an area of the city underserved by mass transit and cut off from Citi Bike. Riders can use an app to unlock the scooters, then pay a per-minute fee, with most trips expected to come out to under $5.
Among many Bronxites, first impressions of the scooters — which includes two models from Bird and Lime, as well as a sit-down option from Veo — were largely positive.
“A lot of people don’t have money to take a cab here or there, and this is real cheap,” said Jose Monge, a 63-year-old resident of Pelham Parkway’s NYCHA Houses. “Plus, with all this traffic going on, I think it's perfect.”
At a demonstration near Bronx Park, first-time riders peppered employees of the scooter companies with questions: “Can I take this out to Orchard Beach?” (Yes); “Do I need a helmet?” (No). “Can minors ride?” (Not legally, though this rule seemed to be widely ignored.)
But even as many embraced the new scooters, their road to success in New York remains fraught. Transportation advocates have repeatedly noted that the East Bronx has high crash rates and almost no protected bike lanes; areas that do have bike-friendly infrastructure, such as the Mosholu-Pelham Greenway, currently prohibit scooters and e-bikes.
Kevin Daloia, a 58-year-old Throggs Neck resident and supporter of the scooters, said he hoped the program would push car-centric East Bronxites toward a new way of thinking about street space.
“Here in Community Board 11, the word bike is like a curse word,” Daloia said. “But people who use this are going to become advocates for bike lanes and a safer way to be transported on the east side of the Bronx. And that’s exciting.”
Research suggests that electric scooters are no more dangerous to ride than bicycles. But some residents have expressed fear that the vehicles present a new threat to the neighborhood’s pedestrians.
“We’ve been flooded with e-bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs, and now scooters,” said Roxanne Delgado, the founder of Friends of Pelham Parkway. The group held a protest against the program over the weekend, and has called on locals to boycott the scooters. “We’re not a social experiment,” Delgado added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spent years overseeing an NYPD crackdown on the e-bikes primarily used by delivery workers, has treated scooters with similar skepticism. That began to change at the start of the pandemic, as immigrant cyclists played an essential role in feeding the city. In April of last year, the state legalized both e-bikes and scooters, and the City Council called for a pilot a few months later.
New York’s belated adoption has also given the city time to evaluate best practices, according to officials. Under the pilot program, riders will be required to pass an in-app safety test and abide by a “beginner mode” that limits the speed of the vehicles to 10 miles per hour for the first three rides; afterward, they can travel up to 15 mph.
While the scooters will be parked on nearly any sidewalk, the city is also testing the use of designated “corrals” in an effort to reduce clutter. But New York has stopped short of measures taken by cities like Paris, which require the scooters to be parked on the street. One transportation official acknowledged that street parking would be preferable, but noted that community and business groups didn’t want to give up parking spaces.
Whether the scooters are adopted citywide will largely depend on the success of the next year, as well as the proclivities of the next administration. While de Blasio has scoffed at the vehicles, advocates note that Eric Adams, the winner of the Democratic primary and heavy favorite in November’s general election, has been a staunch supporter of alternative transportation modes.
“It’s a long pilot, but we want to make sure we provide every opportunity for the city to learn about what we do,” said Phil Jones, the senior director of government relations for Lime. “And who knows, maybe we’ll see them expedite it. That’ll depend on the next mayor.”